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Judge upholds ruling against community, protects access to East Hampton Airport

After a long, drawn-out battle with the local community, the court is upholding a previous ruling that the town of East Hampton failed to comply with procedural requirements for airport noise and access restrictions in its attempt to shut down operations at the East Hampton Town Airport (JPX). In May 2022, East Hampton town officials began an attempt to close the former East Hampton Airport (HTO) with claims the town would extinguish obligations after its federal grant assurances expired in September 2021. The town planned to open the location as a new private-use airport, subject to mandatory curfews and restrictions. The judge ruled that the town violated the requirements of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 when it attempted, despite the town's claims that the ANCA did not apply to the changes it made.Read the full ruling here The initial attempt to shut down the airport and transform it into a heavily restricted private-use airport was blocked by a court injunction and has been upheld by the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department. The NBAA weighed in, with Alex Gertsen, CAM and NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure alleging that the legal battle will likely continue. Gertsen noted that the continuation is a signal that the town will try to appeal the decision. "This latest outcome makes it much harder to restrict or to even close the airport," he said. "This is a great example of the importance of unwavering airport advocacy, standing up for precedent-setting outcomes to protect access even if it may require to leverage the court system." East Hampton's airport remains open to the public and Gertsen points out one important item that remains unsolved, continuing to confuse pilots and operators. While the town has failed in its efforts to convert the airport to private use, the transition to a new identifier and "private" labeling on aeronautical charts and databases still occurred in May 2022. He said the initial court order came just days before the chart publication date. At that point, the FAA had also canceled the existing public instrument approach procedures for the airport. The FAA has worked to restore its IFR procedures but town officials have not submitted the required paperwork to the agency to initiate a change on the charts to reflect that JPX remains open for public use. The NBAA said a contempt motion on the issue is pending.RELATED STORIES:East Hampton Airport seeks compromise after long battle with communityEast Hampton Town Airport to stay open following judge's rulingEast Hampton Airport could close permanently after long battle to privatizeEast Hampton Airport remains open after judge blocks closure "Pilots should note the incorrect labeling of JPX as private on FAA charts, which also removed the airport from the NOTAM system," Gertsen said. "When the runway was closed recently for maintenance, airport officials recruited local pilots to monitor the CTAF frequency to communicate the closure to anyone who may not have been aware. That, obviously, is a concern from a safety perspective. Until it is resolved, we suggest calling ahead for most current airport information prior to departure." Gertsen has noted the importance of being "neighborly" while flying. Aviation stakeholders are committed to the "Pilot Pledge" which is led by the East Hampton Community Alliance. The pledge promotes voluntary curfews and noise abatement procedures which were implemented to help with the rise in noise complaints. "Pilots and operators have continued to embrace the importance of the voluntary noise abatement procedures and helicopter routes," he said. "We look forward to continued engagement and collaboration with the town and the communities surrounding the airport to further strengthen and find ways to improve that already well-established program." A fight that began in 2022 has lingered over the last couple of years. The battle between the community has resulted in lawsuits, restraining orders and fines. The town began its fight to control the airport to cut down on the number of flights and noise from operations, which the local pilots addressed with the pledge. Privatizing would have drastically cut down the number of flights and noise but cut off-airport access to many pilots flying through the region. The town asked the FAA to stop the conversion from HTO to the private status designation of JPX, which was denied, and the JPX designation was activated on May 19, 2022. The town then argued that since HTO no longer existed, the restraining order against the town could not be applied to JPX. This notion was eventually shot down and the town was found guilty for its plans. A judge sided with the plaintiffs, who later sued over the plan and held the town in civil contempt for violating a temporary restraining order that directed the town against converting the airport or imposing flight restrictions. The town was accused of acting beyond its legal abilities and violating New York environmental law by not requiring an environmental impact study before reopening. The town's initial plan to impose a curfew was also found to be illegal for failing to comply with the procedural requirements for noise and access restrictions. Plaintiffs claimed that the town intended to impose longer cool-down periods, doubling the time an aircraft must remain grounded between flights. Reportedly, the town was also planning to close the airport permanently rather than allowing it to operate under new restrictions and imposing new insurance requirements to make it harder to afford to use the airport.AOPA: East Hampton Airport on Google Earth Many locals were disappointed with the result and the lawsuit cost the towns millions. The Board said it felt responsible for protecting locals from the loud noise from passing aircraft. Despite the win, the airport opted to continue working with the local officials to find a solution to appease everyone involved. The court interference had maintained public use of the airport, a feat supported by many in the industry including the AOPA and NBAA. The clash over the East Hampton airport may have more to come. On March 27, the judge passed its ruling to uphold its initial decision. The pilots in the community are going to continue working to appease their neighbors, following voluntary curfews and noise abatement procedures. The question remains as to whether the town will continue trying to close down the airport, despite another loss in court.
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